Programme: Competition Round 2

Programme Notes, Round Two 

 

 

Angela Hicks, soprano 
Keiran White, tenor 

 

Jean-Baptiste Lully 

1632-1687 

Excerpts from Belléronphon  

Paulina Francisco, soprano 

JorgeArmando Martínez Escutia, baritone 

 

G. F. Handel  

1685-1759 

Excerpts from Apollo&Dafne 

 

 

Angela Hicks, soprano 

Keiran White, tenor 

 

M. A. Charpentier 

1643-1704 

Excerpts from Médée 

 

Intermission 

 

Camilo Delgado Diaz, tenor 

Johanna Rosa Falkinger, soprano 

 

G. F. Handel 

1685-1759 

Excerpts from Samson 

Tbc, soprano  

Franko Klisović, countertenor 

Claudio Monteverdi 

1567-1643 

Excerpts from L’incoronazione di Poppea 

 

 

 

Program Notes by Richard S. Ginell 

 

Lully: Bellérophon: 

 

      Bellérophon is the seventh of the string of 14 tragic operas that Jean-Baptiste Lully wrote between 1673 and 1687 for the Académie Royale de Musique at a rate of roughly one per year. During that time span, that was all that one could hear at the Académie; as its director, Lully, was granted a monopoly on productions. Though it was one of Lully’s most popular operas when it was first performed in 1679 – it was the first work of his to be published – Bellérophon fell out of the repertory when French baroque operas ceased to be in fashion, and had to wait until 2010 to be revived, thanks to the discovery of some missing parts in a Paris antique shop. 

 

      The opera depicts the saga of Bellérophon as he battles the Chimera that terrorized Lycia, with romantic complications and sub-plots thrown in. He is unaware of his own exalted parentage until the final act when it is revealed that he is the son of Neptune, the sea god. As usual in Louis XIV’s France, the five-act work has a prologue that served as propaganda for the glorification of the monarch, as delivered by Apollo, Bacchus, Pan and a host of Nine Muses. In another sense, this opera was a departure for Lully in that he wrote recitatives that are fully accompanied by the ensemble for the first time, giving the music a richer texture than in previous works. 

 

     In Act 2, Scene 2, after a brief instrumental Prelude in Lully’s lilting dotted-note manner, Bellérophon asks the princess Philonoé whether she has the same feeling of pleasure as he does being with her. She says that if she has shared his pain, she must also share his pleasures. He is delighted, and together they sing of their mutual love in "Que tout parle à l'envy de nôtre amour extrême," an expression of passion that points the way toward developments in Romantic opera far off in the future. 

 

 

Handel: Apollo e Dafne   

 

     When resources for performances were limited in situations like private gatherings in wealthy patrons’ homes, Handel turned to the cantata, often using the same mythological sources that fueled operas in his day, Apollo e Dafne – originally known as La terra è liberata – is one of about 100 such works of his. Depending upon which source one consults, it was probably written sometime in the span from 1708 to 1710 when he was finishing up his apprenticeship in Italy. 

 

     As Greek and Roman mythology tends to invent explanations on why things are as they are, so Apollo e Dafne does for the unfathomable mysteries of love. In Ovid’s version of the myth in Metamorphoses, the model for Handel’s cantata, Apollo has just slain the Python, the snake that terrorized Delphi, and he is puffed up with arrogance. He brags about his triumph, and in the aria “Spezza l’arco e getta l’armi,” chides his rival archer, Cupid, as someone not worthy to carry his bow and arrow. Then Apollo hears the sweet voice of Daphne, a beautiful nymph, in “Felicissima quest’alma” and instantly falls in love. But she wants nothing to do with Apollo; she is a follower of Diana the huntress (Apollo’s sister) and wishes to remain chaste. This is Cupid’s revenge, for he has shot Apollo with a golden arrow to make him fall in love and reserved a lead arrow for Daphne to provoke the opposite reaction. 

 

     Apollo turns on the charm but it is no use; Daphne will not yield, and they engage in a feisty duet “Una guerra ho dentro il seno” with an Italian lilt in triplets. He eventually becomes exasperated and threatens to take her by force. In the duet “Deh! lascia addolvire,” Apollo tries to calm Daphne down but she agitatedly proclaims that she would rather die than lose her honour.  She runs away, Apollo chases her (Mia piante correte”), and just as he catches her, Daphne appeals to her father Peneus, the river god, who turns her into a laurel tree. Heartbroken, in the final poignant aria, “Cara pianta, co’ miei planti,” Apollo says that his tears will water the tree’s green leaves and the branches will becomes crowns for triumphant heroes of the future. That’s where the tradition of laurel wreaths for victors comes from, and if they stop trying to better themselves, they are “resting on their laurels.” 

 

      Handel simplifies matters by limiting his characters to just Apollo, a baritone, and Daphne, a soprano, while merely implying the actions of Cupid and Peneus. He gives the winds prominent expressive roles, particularly the oboe in Daphne’s arias, and comes up with effectively scampering music to represent Apollo in hot pursuit of Daphne. It’s a remarkably dramatic setting of a myth that tries to explain emotions that continue to vex humanity to this day. 

 

 

Charpentier: Médée 

 

      Marc-Antoine Charpentier’s existing catalog is vast and relatively well-documented – about 500 compositions in 28 volumes of autograph manuscripts (with roughly 300 or more missing). Alas, there isn’t much opera in this trove, for he spent many years being shut out of the Académie Royale de Musique, the primary staging ground for opera in France then monopolized by the works of Jean-Baptiste Lully. Finally in 1693, six years after Lully’s accidental death, Charpentier managed to get an opera on the boards at the Académie – and that was Médée, his largest secular work. It would also be the last time that Charpentier would penetrate the Académie, no thanks to the still-powerful Lully cabal. 

 

      The opera is set in five acts with an obligatory Prologue paying effusive tribute to Louis XIV that has nothing to do with Médée’s plot. Once that’s out of the way, Medea and her husband Jason arrive in Corinth after being exiled from Thessaly. However, Jason is in love with Creusa, the daughter of King Creon – and Creon encourages their affair. He prefers Jason, a Greek hero (he of the Golden Fleece), as a prospective son-in-law to Creusa’s fiancé Oronte, the Prince of Argos, and he wants Medea to exile herself for a while since his people are suspicious of her sorcery.  

 

      In Scene Five of Act II, Creusa confesses that the feelings between herself and Jason are mutual. Jason warns Creusa that Oronte might still be in love with her, but she maintains that Jason has nothing to fear. Together, they agree that the pleasure of being loved surpasses all other pleasures. 

 

      By Act V, Medea is well on the way toward completing her spiraling plan of vengeance.  She ordered up a poisoned robe for Creusa, and used her magic powers to turn Creon’s guards against each other and drive the king insane until he commits suicide. Now in Scene V, Medea has activated the poison in Creusa’s robe by touching it with her wand. Creusa feels the poison burning through her body like a furnace, and she is racked with pain.  

 

      Jason enters in Scene VI, realising that the princess is dying in his arms. She is comforted only somewhat by the thought of dying within the sight of her lover, while he wonders if Medea could possibly have conjured a worse punishment than this.  Creusa dies, and now alone in Scene VII, Jason starts having his own thoughts of revenge. But not to be outdone, Medea reveals that she has stabbed two children she had with Jason to death – and while riding in a flying chariot pulled by dragons, she and her demons torch the Palace of Corinth as she leaves town. 

 

 

Handel: Samson: 

 

      Handel’s Samson dates from a pivotal point in the transplanted German composer’s career. Having determined that the tastes of his London audiences were veering away from the Italian opera conventions in which he was trained, Handel turned more and more of his attention in the 1730s to oratorio in his adopted country’s language. By 1741, he had written his last Italian opera, and it was also the year in which he produced Messiah. Samson was composed directly after Messiah that year – and not only was Samson a smashing success, it surpassed Messiah in popularity right out of the box and for many years afterwards. 

 

      Though considered to be an oratorio because of its religious message – Samson’s eventual role as a vehicle for the will of God – the work has the structure of an opera and can be equally convincing in staged or concert performances. The familiar Biblical story of Samson – the strongman judge of the Israelites who falls in love with Dalila, a Philistine who through her feminine wiles gets him to reveal the source of his enormous strength (his hair) – is relegated to background information here. The shearing of Samson’s hair by a servant acting on Dalila’s orders, and the subsequent capture and blinding of a weakened Samson by the Philistines take place before the opera starts. 

 

     Act I opens as the Philistines are celebrating their festival to their god Dagon at some length, and Samson, blind and in chains, is forced to witness this. Once Dalila, a Philistine man and a Philistine woman are finished with their words of praise, interspersed by repeated hosannas from the Philistine people, Samson notes that “Torments, alas! are not confined to heart, or head, or breast,” but also burrow their ways into the mind to cause the most intense pain of all.  

 

     Later in the act, Samson blames himself for revealing the secret of his former strength to Dalila, citing his vulnerability to the charms of a woman. In the following recitative and air, “Total eclipse!,” he bitterly complains about the loss of the ability to see the sun, the moon, and the stars, Of all of the misfortunes that had befallen him, being blind was worse than being a beggar, worse than old age, even worse than being shackled in chains. 

 

    At the start of Act II, Samson is suicidal over his plight, still regretting that he let his lustful urges get the better of his judgment. But then Dalila appears, all contrite. In the subsequent scene, she uses her femininity to try to get Samson to forgive her, for she says that she had no idea at the time that her actions would cause such trouble. With renewed and redoubled promises of love, she offers to nurse Samson for the rest of his life. Our time on earth is short, she sings in an aria for which Handel provides a tripping, life-affirming rhythm; let’s make the most of it. But Samson is having none of it. Eventually, Dalila gives up, and in a contrapuntal duet, both accuse each other of being traitors to love. 

 

Monteverdi: L’incoronazione di Poppea: 

 

 

      The Coronation Of Poppea – or L’incoronazione di Poppea – was Monteverdi’s final opera, dating from 1643, the year of his death at 76. It is one of just three of the ten Monteverdi operas that still exist in complete form – the others being Orfeo and The Return of Ulysses. While scholars speculate that the music may have been written by more than one composer, it is probable that the aged Monteverdi nevertheless contributed the most important details and delegated the rest to others under his supervision. 

 

      Poppea is an unusual opera for its time because it depicts the actions of real historical figures instead of mythological characters – the first to do so – and especially since most of the characters have little use for what we would call moral principles. Characters who exhibit lust, greed and social climbing win out over those who value reason and virtue. Among the eye-popping passages in the libretto is the final aria from Poppea’s nursemaid Arnalta, who upon learning that she will become part of the ruling class when Poppea ascends to the throne, unleashes an amazingly transparent rant about how she doesn’t have to talk to common folk anymore, that they will kiss up to her and tell her she looks gorgeous even when she doesn’t. For these reasons, Poppea proved to be quite adaptable to updated, sometimes racy productions by radical stage directors in the last quarter of the 20th century. As a result of its out-of-period resonances, it became one of the most-often-performed Baroque-period operas in our time. 

 

       Set during the Roman Empire, the opera finds Poppea scheming to unseat the Empress Octavia as Emperor Nero’s consort, much to the dismay of Otho, who is in love with her. On top of that, Drusilla, a friend of Poppea, is in love with Otho. At the start of Scene Four in Act I, Poppea and Nero have just bid farewell to each other after a lovers tryst. In “Speranza, tu mi vai il cor accarezzando,” she invokes Hope to continue to beguile her heart and flatter her spirit about her affair with the emperor, while not forgetting to include achieving her goal of becoming Empress. The pragmatic Arnalta will soon warn her about the dangers of trusting philandering, self-interested politicians and their jealous wives, but Poppea will ignore the advice. 

   

       In Scene Ten, just after Nero angrily dismisses his old tutor Seneca for his advice on good government, Poppea enters, and the two reminisce about the previous night’s lovemaking. Nero offers to make Poppea his Empress, Poppea is anxious to accept but craftily reminds Nero of one of the obstacles to their union, accusing Seneca of telling people that he is the true power behind the throne. That strikes a nerve in Nero, who asserts that his power derives from himself alone, and he tells an officer of the court to order his tutor to commit suicide. 

  

     We then jump over a good portion of the opera to Scene Five in Act III. A plot to murder Poppea that had been hatched by the Empress Octavia was unraveled when Otho, still in love with Poppea and disguised as his devoted Drusilla, refused to go through with it. Nero spared Otho’s and Drusilla’s lives and banished them from Rome together, and now he had good reason to banish Octavia as well. All obstacles for Nero to wed Poppea and make her the new Empress have been removed, and they sing about their happiness. 

 

      Scene Eight in Act III depicts the coronation itself in the throne room of the Imperial Palace. In the first excerpt, Nero asks Poppea to ascend to the throne. Then in the opera’s gentle final duet, their voices entwine as if completing each other’s thoughts or blend in blissful thirds. Ultimately, things will not end well for this couple in the future – the historical Nero allegedly kicked the pregnant Poppea to death after an argument over money – but that’s another story. 

 

        

Music critic, lecturer, and program annotator Richard S. Ginell writes about music for the Los Angeles Times, San Francisco Classical Voice, and Musical America.com. In addition, he a regular contributor to – and the West Coast regional editor of – Classical Voice North America, His work has appeared in the Gramophone, Chicago Tribune, Montreal Gazette, Boston Globe, Daily Variety, American Record Guide, and the Strad, among many other publications. He has written program notes for the Metropolitan Opera of New York, Los Angeles Opera, New York City Opera, Canadian Opera, and Dallas Opera, along with over 40 sets of booklet notes for recordings. He is currently based in Los Angeles, California, USA. 

 

 

 

Scene descriptions by director Victoria Bomann-Larsen 

 

Lully: Bellérophon 

Princesse 

Let's bring summer, light and love into the concert hall!  

 

Handel: Apollo e Dafne   

Apollo is, among other things, the god of music. In this scene, he has just killed a big snake and is really satisfied with himself. While talking to the audience about how silly he finds Cupido, Dalila enters. She shares her wisdom of life with the orchestra. Apollo finds her beauty so breath-taking that he just can’t resist her. But Dalila plays hard to get, then slips away at the last second.  This is the first time Apollo gets hurt by a woman. But not the last.  

 

Charpentier: Médée   

Creuse moves into her lover’s flat. She feels a bit lost. Jason just kicked out his wife, Médée, and their children. He thinks that from now on life will be easy, since Creuse is so uncomplicated and beautiful, so different from his ex-wife. Creuse soon takes over the role of the housewife, but she feels claustrophobic. Médée seems to still be present in the house, a poison seeping in between her and her beloved. When Jason dresses Creuse with Médée’s dress, she starts choking as if strangled, desperate to live. She feels like she is dying in this house. Jason forgoes responsibility but lusts for revenge. 

 

Handel: Samson 

Samson & Dalila 

Dalila’s betrayal left Samson blind and chained. Darkness and bitterness fill his whole existence. He thinks he can never forgive her. But were her actions really unforgivable? Perhaps she was just naive. And is Samson really bound and blind? It is hard to say you’re sorry and it’s hard to forgive, but Samson and Dalila find a common understanding and ultimately liberation. They are able to move on. 

 

Monteverdi: L’incoronazione di Poppea 

Nerone has power, Poppea wants power. They are passionate, ambitious people, and they do whatever it takes to get to the top. Nerone runs out to kill whomever it was that plotted against him, while Poppea celebrates his promise of sharing the crown with her. When he returns, Poppea is drunk and wild. The pair are convinced somebody is trying to kill her. They find comfort in each other and their common paranoia. The coronation takes place and Poppea is finally where she wanted to be from the beginning.